San Francisco-based creative agency Traction is closing down its office and shifting to working remotely permanently, says co-founder and CEO Adam Kleinberg. The company broke its lease last week because “we decided we just don’t need it,” Kleinberg says. In the wake of working from home amid the the coronavirus pandemic, Kleinberg found “we didn’t miss a beat.” Even once the country reopens, Kleinberg doesn’t foresee a need to host in-person meetings with staffers. “We have adopted a lot of behaviors that have eliminated the need for face-to-face,” he says. One such tool is Miro, a virtual whiteboard that allows Traction staff to collaborate and brainstorm in real time.
This is yet another example of how COVID-19 is poised to reshape how the ad world conducts business. For more-seasoned employees who have already learned the ins-and-outs of office life, the change of pace may be welcomed. Going remote could open up opportunities for new moms, for example, who in the past had to take extended maternity leave or choose between focusing on their child or continuing to work. “The new model supports them in a much deeper way,” Kleinberg says.
But for those new to the workforce or at an early point in their careers, remote working could create feelings of disconnect. And for some employees who live in small studio apartments or with roommates, this new work structure may not be ideal. Kleinberg says once stay-at-home orders have been lifted, Traction will problem-solve with employees who may have different needs or living situations to make the arrangement work for them.
Traction’s decision to eliminate a physical workspace coincides with the company’s move before the pandemic away from a typical agency model to more of a consultancy, Kleinberg says. As more brands build in-house creative resources, Traction has found success in consulting brands on how to build experiences with a roster of subject-matter experts. Kleinberg says the agency has brought in six new clients in 2020.
It also aligns with the trend of people in the ad industry leaving urban centers amid COVID-19 to escape to places with more space or to family homes. Kleinberg says he had one employee who approached him to say that they were thinking of leaving San Francisco. Kleinberg says that by working remotely Traction can support such moves, and “if you move out of state, it doesn’t really matter.”
Ad Age’s Lindsay Rittenhouse spoke with 10 agency professionals who moved back in with family members in remote locations since their employers implemented work-from-home policies in March. These agency employees said the decision allows for cost savings, and in some cases, comfort and help with childcare. The question is, will these people return to major hubs in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles once the pandemic wanes? And do they even need to?
But it will be some time before decisions like that will likely need to be made.
Apple said this week it is pushing its retail staff to work remotely, adding that it is unlikely employees will return to its U.S. offices in 2020. Similarly, ViacomCBS said a majority of its employees will not return to its U.S. offices this year. In a memo obtained by Variety, ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish wrote: “While we were hopeful we’d be able to bring a small number of employees back to U.S. office locations beginning in August, due to recent spikes it’s clear this will not happen. In fact, at this point, we are assuming the majority of employees will not be returning to U.S. offices this year.”
Nearly half of remote workers aren’t comfortable returning to offices before a vaccine is available, according to data from CivicScience.